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SOS Rhino : In the News : Reliving the headhunter’s legacy

Reliving the headhunter’s legacy

The Star Online
Friday, November 18,2005

The legacy of dead men lives on in the small Kadazandusun community of Kampung Kiau at the foothills of Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu. 

Dead men tell no tales but their legacy lives on. Dozens of centuries old human skulls, believed to be remnants of the headhunting era, are now the focus of new interest among the small Kadazandusun community of Kampung Kiau located at the foot of South-East Asia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu. 

The villagers feel that instead of leaving these human trophies to rot, they might as well keep them and turn them into tourist attractions. 

Jounis Gokong, the village security and development committee chairman, told Bernama that for decades these skulls had been kept from public knowledge mainly to hormati adat lama or in deference to their age-old customs. 

But now, the Kiau villagers feel the time has come to unfold the untold mysteries behind these skulls for the benefit of local and foreign tourists visiting this sleepy hollow. 

To take advantage of the encouraging number of tourists, 16 families had opened their houses to participants of a homestay programme, Jounis said. 

“We thought it may be more interesting to offer something unique to the visitors, and that’s when we decided to showcase the human trophies. 

“We plan to build a small house to exhibit the skulls together with historical write-ups to enable visitors to see and understand the real story behind the headhunting saga,” he said, adding that for decades, the human trophies were kept and guarded in secret places. 

He said, in other villages, the skulls were hung on tree branches known as sogindai among the Kadazandusun community, and were fiercely guarded. 

At the moment, the 30 skulls in Kiau were kept by one of the village’s bobolian or priests called Solinggou Poit, who placed them in a “floating graveyard” or small hut in his backyard. 

Some of the skulls are in poor condition and have to be kept in tin containers. 

The Solinggou Poit inherited the task of safe-keeping the skulls from their great-grandfathers. 

Jounis said, in earlier days, the skulls were hidden in secret places as it was considered a taboo to display them publicly. Anyone wanting to see them must have special reasons before the keeper granted permission. 

“But the villagers now believe the old skulls are no longer an integral part of their old traditional customs and instead consider them as part of Sabah’s important history that should be taught and understood by the people, especially the younger generation,” he said. 

Quoting oral history passed down from generations, Jounis said the Kiau village was once a stage for many barbaric acts that involved killing and decapitation either for revenge, in self-defence, animosity or simply as a show of individual prowess. 

Kiau was also believed to be the birthplace of Gomukung, a Kadazandusun warrior in the primitive era who was said to have mystical powers. 

“Legend has it that the people of Kiau revered him as a great warrior and protector. The mere mention of his name will send fears down the spine,” he said. 

Kiau folk also believe that Gomukung had a hand in collecting human skulls. 

Kampung Kiau, situated 86km from the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, is fast becoming one of Sabah’s popular tourist destinations, probably because of its proximity to the 4,095.2m Mount Kinabalu. 

For years, this farming village with a population of 856, mostly Kadazandusuns, had been selected as a venue for international mountain bike competitions, said Jounis. – Bernama

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